Spice Up Your Dinner Table w/ a Vegetarian Paella

We asked Marie Simmons: What topic should we showcase in our May eNewsletter? Spices, the award-winning cookbook author replied. “Today, we’re fortunate that we can buy — either locally or online — all sorts of interesting spices,” Marie added. “I explore spice catalogs and spice selections in markets for familiar or new spices to try.”

We took Marie’s advice. For starters, spices and extra virgin olive oil share strong culinary bonds. They allow cooks to kick up the flavor of a dish. And both add richness without the use of butter or heavy cream.

Marie gave us two of her own spice-infused recipes to share. They come from her new cookbook: Fresh & Fast Vegetarian (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011). We’ve been cooking from it, and the recipes are terrific.

The vegetable paella featured here happens to be on the cover of Marie’s book, her 23rd cookbook. (Click here to see the vegetable paella recipe.)

Paella, the classic rice dish which originated in Spain, comes in many versions. You can use: meat, including rabbit or chicken; seafood, such as shrimp; and vegetables, like green beans. Or you can combine all of the above and create a “mixed” paella.

Marie’s vegetarian version relies on sweet peppers, shitake mushrooms, cauliflower, green beans, and onions. She also introduces a new twist in her paella. “The dish is sometimes seasoned with saffron,” Marie said. “But in this version I use a delicious smoked paprika called Pimentón de la Vera.”

Marie said the most important step in making paella is the slow cooking of the onion, tomato, garlic and seasonings in extra virgin olive oil. “This is called the sofrito and is essential for flavor,” she said.

One last piece of advice: “To get a browned crust on the bottom — considered a delicacy — turn the heat to high during the last few minutes of cooking,” Marie said. “Include some of this crunchy layer (called the socarrat) with each serving.”

We’ll make sure we do.

Bon appétit,

Your friends at California Olive Ranch